2018-08-26 – Acts 11:19-30 – Building a Christian Church

Acts 11:19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and iwas in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

27 At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

2018-08-26 – Acts 11.19-30 – Building a Christian Church

Good morning everyone. I am so pleased that you chose to spend the morning with us here today. God bless you all.

What a wonderful ‘Church in the Park’ picnic we had last week! Wasn’t the food terrific! I think we had 47 people in attendance, including 7 visitors (5 from the park). Thanks to all who came out, and especially those who contributed.

Isn’t it amazing what a difference a week makes? Like some of you, we took our daughter Estelle to college in Springfield. It is that time of year, and although we are very happy and optimistic for her, we left Springfield a little sad and somber.

Today’s sermon message is entitled Building a Christian Church. And we will also be discussing what it means to be a Christian, and a Disciple for Jesus Christ.

Please turn now to Acts 11:19 (pg 130 of the Pew Bibles), which is the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God, but let us start with prayer.  

In this book of Acts that was written by Dr. Luke, we have seen the new church step out of their Jewish comfort zone and they sent many missionaries to all parts of Judea and the Roman world to tell about the good news Gospel of Jesus. In the last series of messages, we read of how the church had extended membership to include Non-Jewish Gentiles, and effectively everyone who believes in Jesus.

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 

Most of our story today takes place in Antioch. Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria, and is about 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was an important port founded in 300BC. In Paul’s day it was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (after Rome and Alexandria) and it had a large colony of expatriate Jews living there among the predominantly ‘Greek’ population. The Jewish historian Josephus records that there were more Jews living in Antioch at this time than in any other city of the world outside Judaea.

Antioch was a thriving city where Herod the Great had paved over two miles of its streets with marble, and had erected a colonnade from one end to the other. Antioch subsequently became one of the four great centers of our Christian faith.

21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Our text first makes reference about Stephen being martyred and the believers being persecuted. You might recall that Stephen, along with six others were selected to be the first Deacons of the church. He went out and was preaching the Gospel when he was subsequently stoned to death in Jerusalem. Saul, who later went by the name Paul was took part of that stoning. Paul later said himself that he effectively orchestrated this stoning persecution event, as well as others.

The Christians were scattered as a result of the persecution. That persecution resulted in Christians carrying out the Great Commission that Jesus commanded the new believers to do. Matthew 28, Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” As a result of the persecution, these early church members were carrying out that Great Commission. When persecution comes, it mostly always calls forth for a decision to be made.

In our world today, there are many people that call themselves Christians, but they strive at the same time to live in what they believe is the middle-ground. They are people who call themselves Christian, but are not doing anything to engage or expand the church. However in the face of persecution, there is no room for middle ground. When people are ready to throw you into the lions-den, there is no middle down. You either stand or your run. Now I know we don’t have any lions-dens around here, but there are all different kinds of persecution, even here in Kewanee.

You can’t even turn on the news without hearing of some type of persecution in our world. It might be regarding some bomber in Israel, a beheading in Africa, or maybe something closer to home like I experienced a couple weeks ago when I tried to post something religious on Facebook. Even after three attempts get them to appeal, they denied my post; and it was just an uplifting message. Jesus said that we should expect to be persecuted, but we should be comforted knowing that He was persecuted too. Jesus said “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

As our early church brothers and sisters found out, persecution is tough to experience, but it has another positive effect, it tends to purify the church. Persecution causes those who remain in the church to get serious about their faith. People under persecution cannot sit on the fence any longer. They are forced to make tough decisions. Maybe ever life and death type of decisions. Be ready my dear friends, because one day you too will face such decisions.

Another great lesson from our verses today, is the understanding that persecution has always caused growth in the church. Even as far back as when the Jewish folks were living in Egypt. You might recall that Pharo kept trying to suppress the growth and strength of the Israelites through persecution and slavery. However the more they were inflicted with trials by the Egyptians, the more they grew and prospered. The same dynamic happened as stated in our text here during the early days of the church. They stoned Stephen and therefore the Christians scattered and spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Another more recent and great example is what happened in Russia and China over the past several decades. When the communist governments tried to squelch religious growth and western influence by becoming isolationists. They mostly prohibited religion, especially Christianity for over 40 years. When they finally opened up again to the world, to everyone’s surprise Christianity grew immensely during that same time. They were meeting in house churches and underground churches. When Christians are persecuted they thrive. That the fact.

Now Barnabas was spending time with the new church. Barnabas was a crazy radical for Christ Evangelist Disciple. The last series we went through showed how God extended the church membership now to Gentiles. And Barnabas and the Jewish home church was very interested about this new radical church growth.

The name Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement”, and he fully lived up to that nick name. Like Barnabas, as Christians we are called to be encouragers too, particularly of those who are weak in the faith or struggling. Acts 11:23 depicts Barnabas as a man who was delighted to see others exhibiting the grace of God in their lives, exhorting and encouraging them to remain faithful. In the same way, we should look for opportunities to praise those who bring glory and honor to God through lives that reflect their faith.

In our text here, the members of the church are first called by the name Christians. Before the Christian’s were called Christians, they were called simply “The Way”, we believe because of Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 that He is “the way and the truth and the life.”

The new title Christian means Christ-Like, or literally “belonging to the party of Christ” or “follower of Christ.” That is also the very indicative of the title Disciple, as we strive to become lifelong learners, followers of Jesus Christ.

I believe the church members were first called Christians at Antioch because church membership was extended to all people there. They started to truly look like Jesus in action at Antioch. Jesus made it clear that He was for all people, not just for the righteous Jews, and that is what He wants His church to be about. Like Jesus, as Christians we should be putting it all on the line, living for Christ. Stand-up Born again Christians, not trying to live in some make believe middle ground, but the type of follower that is willing to even die for Him if necessary.

Now I am not at all suggesting that to be a Christian you have to quit your job and start working at the church. I am suggestion however, that whatever you do, where ever you go, you are a Christian first. God doesn’t want you to just wear your faith on your sleeve, He wants all of you. He wants you to put on all of your Born-again Christian character where ever you go, knowing that you might even be persecuted for doing so. However, even in that you will be blessed, I promise you, and the church will grow. That is how we start Building a Christian Church. We need to be serious about our faith. Are you ready?

Our last scripture here, starting at verse 27 says:
27 At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

These first named Christians were risk taking, persecution bearing, and loving evangelistic believers. They were doing God’s will and work. That is how and why their church was growing. We are to take Godly risks, make His work our work and priority. Take care of the poor, the widows and the orphans. Love thy neighbor and treat others the way you wish to be treated. God will be with you in these endeavors. Jesus gave us the church after He ascended into heaven. He did this because He knew that we would need each other to get through this thing called life. Church is intended to be a blessing. That doesn’t mean that it is always joyful and without struggle. Even the first church in Jerusalem had many challenges. But regardless, church is a blessing indeed. I hope you all realize this.

This last section of our verses also shows me the value of having a church network. Especially for a young church like Antioch, fellowship with other like-minded churches is essential. We are part of the Quad Cities Area Baptist Association of churches. Which is part of the Illinois Baptist State Association of churches. Which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention of churches. Dr. Luke wrote here that the early churches looked after one another, they cared for the welfare of one another, and they shared in the resources of one another.
That Network is intended to strengthen and maintain the church body. I chose to become Southern Baptist, not because they had the corner on all things righteous. Not because they did all things right and all the other denominations were all wrong. I chose to become Southern Baptist because I saw that they heavily relied upon Scripture, were conservative in nature, and they have awesome resources that they are willing to share and use to help those who are doing the Great Commission work that Jesus commanded us to be doing.

So the charge for us from scripture today is: Let us all strive to be more about becoming a walking, talking, breathing, working, caring, playing and praying Christian family of believing disciples. And by doing that, especially in times of persecution, we will be undoubtedly Building a Christian Church.

I want to close with a quote from Romans 7, starting at verse 31. It is entitled More Than Conquerors, The Apostle Paul wrote:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies.34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one.
Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Please Stand with me now and Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father..